In another first under the Obama Administration, the White House Office of Public Engagement held a meeting on bisexual issues on September 23—which just so happens to be the fifteenth annual Celebrate Bisexuality Day.
The panel, which was not open to the press, was put together by the Bisexual Resource Center and BiNet USA, which describes itself as “America’s umbrella organization and voice for bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer-identified and all other of us ‘somewhere in between’ people.”
Some people might see the idea of discussing bisexual issues as redundant; the B in “LGBT” does, after all, stand for “bisexual,” and legislation such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act is inclusive of the bisexual community. However, the president of BiNet USA, Faith Cheltenham, told the Washington Blade, “Our community is definitely in desperate need. When we do come out, the things that happen to us are different than what happens to gays or lesbians. We won’t get promoted sometimes because we’re out and people think we’re flaky.”
Cheltenham, who is married to a straight man, pointed out that many bisexuals suffer discrimination from both the gay community and the mainstream community. She also cited a 2013 report from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which found that sixty-one percent of bisexual women have been on the receiving end of domestic violence, sexual assault, and stalking due to their sexual orientation, compared to forty-four percent for lesbians and thirty-five percent for straight women.
Bisexual invisibility is also a concern regarding mental and physical health; Cheltenham said that in regards to effective HIV prevention models, “there’s no specific bisexual one, and that’s a problem… bisexual men aren’t being educated on HIV at the levels that we want them to be. We’re not seeing them reflected in HIV materials.”
The event at the White House was off the record in addition to being closed to the press, which meant the groups organizing it were reluctant to disclose how many people would attend or who would participate. However, representatives from both BiNet and the Bisexual Resource Center confirmed they would be attending, but said they had gotten confirmation from researchers and advocates in the bisexual community from across the country, including from the Human Rights Campaign, with people of color making up a significant percentage.
Cheltenham also said that she has not heard President Obama will be attending, but could not confirm or deny for certain.
White House spokesperson Shin Inouye replied to a query for further information by the Washington Blade, “As it routinely does with interested parties on any number of issues, the White House Office of Public Engagement will hold a briefing on Monday on issues of concern to the bisexual community.” He declined to provide further information, explaining, “This event is closed press.” (Meetings in the Office of Public Engagement are often closed to the press and public, regardless of issue.)
Holding a formal discussion on this particular issue is new for the White House, but the bisexual community has been working towards such recognition for years; the idea of hosting a panel was first brought up with the White House LGBT liaison, then Brian Bond, in 2010.
The president of the Bisexual Resource Center, Ellyn Ruthstrom, said the meeting is the bisexual community’s chance to “share their perspectives” with White House officials and LGBT advocates.
She told the Washington Blade that bisexuals are “suffering to a larger degree on many of these different health disparities, mental health issues. You just assume if we’re addressing just the LGBT community as a whole, then we must be taking care of bisexuals. And that is not the case.”